Ending months of speculation, Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks announced his candidacy for McHenry County Board Chairman, setting up what is sure to be a fierce race for the first-ever election for the seat.
But while the move gives the McHenry County Republican Party a hard fight for what was an uncontested race, it also gives the GOP a chance to reclaim the 63rd Illinois House District seat that Franks said he is relinquishing to run for chairman instead.
Franks, of Marengo, made the announcement Sunday morning, shortly after the Democratic Party of McHenry County voted to slate him to run against Republican nominee Michael Walkup. Walkup, a County Board member from Crystal Lake, narrowly defeated incumbent Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, in the March 15 primary.
Franks, who has few friends on the County Board after years of butting heads with them – most recently instigating a state investigation into members’ pension eligibility – said running for chairman is the best way to get the board to clean up what he calls its fiscal and ethical shortcomings.
“The population of our county is declining because of poor leadership in the county that relies too much on raising our taxes and too little on making the tough choices to consolidate overlapping and duplicative government services. I have decided to enter the County Board Chairman’s race because McHenry County deserves a proven tax fighter as chairman. I have spent my public career fighting all tax increases, and it’s that commitment that I will take to the county," Franks said.
Franks took advantage of GOP infighting in 1998 to win election to the 63rd House District, which covers western and northern McHenry County. He has survived and thrived in the Republican-dominated county by fighting taxes and government spending.
The GOP has struggled since to take the seat, and Franks has handily defeated every candidate thrown at him. But his decision to withdraw and focus on the chairman race gives the GOP a better shot at a pickup through candidate Steven Reick, of Harvard.
The county Democratic Party has until August to select a candidate to run against Reick, and Democratic Party of McHenry County Chairman Michael Bissett said the decision will not happen until at least after Memorial Day.
“I’ll be the face of McHenry County in both Springfield and Washington," Franks said. "I’ll give us credibility, and I’ll be able to put McHenry County back on the map."
Franks has made his share of enemies on the County Board, which sees him as a meddler. When members refused to entertain his request to make the chairmanship popularly elected, he got a referendum on the ballot to change to a county executive form of government. While voters rejected the idea, board members advanced the successful referendum for popular election of the chairman, partly out of concern that Franks would keep advancing the executive idea.
"If he can’t get the board to work with him, you can’t get anything done, whether you’re the chairman or not," Walkup said. "Because the board sets the rules."
But Franks has alleged that the County Board has done its share of meddling as well. County government lobbying groups have fought Franks’ bills aimed at property tax relief and government consolidation, which he bluntly portrays as county government spending taxpayer money to make sure they don’t get less of it.
Most recently, Franks sparked the ongoing investigation of the County Board by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which is asking members to prove that they are working the 1,000 hours a year required to earn pensions which all but a handful of members have signed up to receive. The IMRF’s rules state that elected officials under the 1,000-hour mandate, barring extraordinary circumstances, are not eligible for pensions.
“I think the citizens are going to see a real change in how their government goes," Franks said, if he is elected. "I think they’re going to be real happy, and and think it’s necessary. I’m going to take us out of the backwaters and bring us into the 21st century.”
Walkup, who has been on the board for three and a half years, said an effective chairman should have experience on the County Board.
"You have no idea what's going on, you don’t know who the people are, you don’t know what the issues are. Being in state government just does not give you that type of experience,” Walkup said. " ... I can work with the other board members a lot better than somebody coming in from the outside."
He said Yensen has served two terms on the County Board and is currently on the Lake in the Hills Village Board. Potter has not held an office, Bissett said.